[ photo courtesy ]
Whenever we think about brands and brand values, we generally think in terms of personality traits and characteristics we want the brands in question to embody.
And rightly so, because some of the most-loved brands are undeniably human – they’re alive with personality and there’s a real sense of character about them.
I was chatting to the exceptionally smart Justin Basini the other day, and he observed that for many of the strongest brands, their founders are still very much involved in the company. The Apple, Virgin, Ben & Jerry’s, Howies, Innocent and Dyson brands are inextricably linked with the personalities of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Ben & Jerry, Clare & David Hieatt, Richard Reed and James Dyson. The founders are central – with the unmistakeable imprint of the personalities and the values on which the companies were founded deeply embedded throughout the business. And when the founders are no longer involved, the brand has to replace the founder as the core of the business, to represent what the company was founded to do and shape how it should behave. Which is of course a lot harder to deliver in practice.
Similarly, Mike Arauz posted not so long ago about the role of personal brands of individuals within agencies vs the agency brands themselves – and how far the reputations of CP+B and Edelman are bound up with Alex Bogusky and Steve Rubel / David Armano (and Zappos with Tony Hsieh).
It’s about people. The individuals in question are charismatic, confident and decisive with what Justin has pithily summarised as ‘heart, vision, ambition and human understanding’. The key bit being human. And there’s a big difference between human-sounding attributes detailed in a brand pyramid / onion / molecule / insert branding model of choice and real human values.
Values aren’t supposed to be the result of an academic exercise, attributes that are carefully detailed in brand guidelines (that invariably contain more about the prescribed typeface and logo, how a brand should outwardly appear, than the way its people should behave, what the brand should actually do) – and then languish thoroughly unloved on brand managers’ desks.
They’re supposed to be the maxims we hold dear, the principles that guide how we behave in everything that we do.
Those brands whose founders are still involved demonstrate the difference that living and breathing those values has. It’s clear that it’s do-able.
So what excuse do the majority of brands, who behave in such a thoroughly un-human, un-personable way, have?